The Blog of Maria Konovalenko

Maria Konovalenko is a molecular biophysicist and program coordinator for the Science for Life Extension Foundation, an organization that might be seen as the Russian equivalent of the SENS Foundation or Methuselah Foundation. There is the same dedication to extending healthy human life span, the same strong connections to the scientific community, and similar outreach programs. If you haven't already done so, you should take a look at the Foundation's website via Google Translate.

In any case, Konovalenko came to my attention as an advocate for engineered longevity a little while back via a well-done video presentation. Now I see that she has a blog up and running; a couple of recent posts caught my eye:

Bubonic plague

Almost every time when the conversation drifts to fighting aging the majority of people loose the common sense. Here’s how a typical dialog about aging looks like, but the word "aging" is substituted with "bubonic plague":

Bubonic plague fighter: There’s a huge problem in our city - we've got an epidemy of bobunic plague. If we do nothing, everybody will die in the throws of bubonic plague.

Inhabitant of the city: Let's take a look at the problem from another point of view: if nobody dies from bubonic plague, our city will be overpopulated.

...

Bubonic plague fighter: Then why do we try to conquer other diseases, but not the bubonic plague? If there were a vaccine, people would not refuse it! People have always tried to do what's best for them. Now that's natural.

Inhabitant of the city: But bubonic plague can not be defined as a disease, because nobody is trying to overcome it and there's no cure for it. This is what nature gave us. It can not be cured.

15 mistakes of an investor who funds research on life extension

Despite everything that I am going to write further the biggest mistake of an investor is to think that someone else is going to fund the search for interventions into human aging, growing and creating artificial organs. Despite quite a large number of news on this topic there are no breakthroughs yet, and that's mostly because the lack of money and good management. I'd like to note that capitalization of a dead investor is equal to zero and it’s only research into life extension that can help him thrive on and on.

I find it interesting that there is so little investment in longevity engineering, all things considered. When you are good at turning time into money, the most valuable long term investment you could make is into developing ways to turn money into time.

There is a lot that can be said on this topic: for example, we might blame stoic cultural inertia, that state in which people are unwilling to write off the great effort it took to come to terms with their own future demise. Or perhaps we point the finger at the vile "anti-aging" marketplace, whose leaders direct vast sums in advertising to convince people that when it comes to extending healthy, youthful life, the only things out there are fripperies, cosmetics, lies, and scammers. Maybe we throw up our hands and choose to believe that, given the way in which human nature discounts future value, most people for most of their lives are actually not all that interested in living longer. Then there's Aubrey de Grey's triangular logjam analogy for the way in which vested interests and human behavior have built an edifice that resist progress.

I could go on. But none of these line items are unique to the intersection of aging, advancing biotechnology, and human longevity. Every great shift in culture and technological prowess was at some point an uphill struggle. We humans just don't like change, and no matter that a given change is good - the mainstream will still be enthusiastically against it before they are reluctantly for it.

Advocacy and progress is a process, and in the case of engineering greater human longevity it is a process we are well in the midst of: changing views, advancing science, the great and confusing conversation about aging and longevity that spans all media and all interested parties. To be in the middle as matters unfold makes it hard to see the big picture, but we can be assured that a great deal of work has taken place, a great deal of work is to come, and medical technology is advancing. We can do little wrong by continuing to work at make the future arrive more rapidly.

Comments

To the list of stock responses, add implied selfishness, as the response I received recently on facebook: "The race to keep Will Nelson alive continues". People just have their heads in the sand.

Posted by: Will Nelson at June 1st, 2010 1:50 PM

I agree more could be done on this front, but I think there has been an overwhelming amount of progress made in the overall field of longevity in the past 20 years. They say the first person to live to 150 years old has already been born and I'm inclined to agree with that thought.

Posted by: Bill at July 12th, 2010 1:24 PM

I agree with Bill, although I suspect the main progress has been through safer, less diseased and better fed lives up until now, but as evidenced in the first world, this reaches a tipping point where the same safe lifestyles, medicines and food that gave us our longevity are now starting to threaten it.
Whilst watching for the hoped for medical leap forward, I tend to look towards those who, ironically, adopt a more primitive lifestyle (to which our bodies are, it seems, better suited) From the herbal officionados imbibing sage for their menopause symptoms to diet fanatics with their primitive diets of raw veg, and unrefined grains - for a long time our less sedentary, more "outdoorsy" colleagues have thrived into later life with less of the usual age bound maladies such as bone thinning and arterial plaque. But, to be cynical, where are the bucks in telling people to eat a carrot and go for a walk? Perhaps, like Scrooge, we would benefit from a balance of Past, Present and Future as we seek to extend our quality of life.

Posted by: The Menopause Sage at February 8th, 2011 12:55 AM

Yeah, most people really do have a backwards view of aging. People throw around the word anti-aging left and right without really considering the science behind it. We need to collectively re-define aging first in society before we can really make great leadway in slowing and preventing the harmful effects.

I really liked what Maria said in her blog post, especially the comparison of bubonic plague. Funny! I'll have to check her out.

Posted by: Bill Simms at June 7th, 2011 6:36 AM

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